Wait, what’s “Like a Virgin” actually about?
A group of small-time criminals gang together to perform, what appears to be, a pretty easy and simple jewel heist. However, the situation goes awry for many reasons, leaving the plan to go to crap, some men dead, and suspicions to rise through the roof. One of the main suspicions is that one of the guys involved with the crew, as well as with the heist, is a cop; while Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) disputes this fact, even he too is feeling a bit odd about what had just transpired and where to go from here. This is when the rest of the crew comes into the picture, where everybody’s getting over just what the hell had happened at the heist and who is to be blamed for it – some react more eccentrically than others, of course. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) wants to get right down to the bottom of who caused this whole mess; Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) just wants to sit around and hurt people for the heck of it; “Nice Guy” Eddie (Chris Penn) wants to know who screwed-up his daddy’s plan; and while this is all happening, Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is coming closer and closer to death, as each and every second goes by, what with his gunshot wound and all.
So yeah, Reservoir Dogs is the sole film that put Quentin Tarantino on the map and for that reason alone, it deserves to be preserved, praise and adored for many years to come. It’s not just that since this was his debut and all that makes it worth talking about 20+ years later, but the fact that it’s still a great movie that deserves to stand alongside the rest of his other creations he’s made in the years since – which is obviously saying a whole lot. But what always keeps me coming back to Reservoir Dogs is the fact that no matter how many times I see it, it never gets old, boring, or annoying.
In fact, it just gets better and better, as mostly everyone of Tarantino’s films do.
However, having now seen this for what appears to be the umpteenth time, I will say if there was one qualm I had with the movie, it’s that it seems like Mr. Orange’s backstory runs on too long. It’s fine to see where he came from and why he matters to the story, but the whole segment concerning him, the story he has to tell to get these violent heavies to like him, and the whole visualization of said story, just feels over-done. It’s like when people complain about Tarantino’s movies nowadays being “too excessive”, as well as “overly-stylized” (both are reservations I understand, but never actually said), I totally understand; it just adds more filler-time to a movie that, quite frankly, doesn’t need it.
Because, for as short as it runs (just under 100 minutes), Reservoir Dogs is a pretty spectacular movie. What Tarantino does best with just about everything he touches, is that he gives his characters their own distinct personalities that matter when you hear them talk to one another, how they relate, and just what it is that they do when handling a heavy situation such as this. Even from the very beginning in the diner, Tarantino lays out all of the cards of which person has what kind of personality, and why they’re worth paying attention to; obviously, once everything gets heated and tense, the movie starts to show more shades of these characters, but it’s always believable and fun, if only because Tarantino sets everything up so perfectly.
And yeah, playing these characters, each and every person is great, showing that they’re clearly capable of handling the “Tarantino speak“, which is probably why most of them have appeared in his films since this.
As an actor himself, Tarantino isn’t anything special, but he’s less in-your-face this time around, so it works when we see him just delivering dialogue that, yes, he wrote, but clearly seems to be fine with letting others deliver as well. Even though it’s not hard to imagine that practically every member of this cast had no idea what they were reading when they picked this script up, it still does not show a single bit, as each member seems ready-to-go and accepting of where this movie takes them. Which is saying something because, for those who have seen Reservoir Dogs, it goes into some pretty crazy and wild places – all of which work and are just as exciting as the last maneuver Tarantino made.
But plot mechanics aside, it’s always about the characterizations with Tarantino that works best and it shows especially so with Steve Buscemi’s Mr. Pink. Of course, it’s no surprise to anyone that Buscemi’s a great actor who can appear in anything and still work, but here, he gets a chance to really show his true colors as a character who, for the most part, seems to be the voice of reason. While everyone else is on one side of the room, screaming, yelling and emoting loud enough for aliens on Mars to hear, Mr. Pink is just wondering to himself how the hell he’s going to get out of this situation and who is to blame. In that aspect, Mr. Pink is probably the funniest character of the bunch, which isn’t because he says anything funny, really – it’s just because Buscemi is so great at this kind of high-strung, take-no-crap character, that it’s just a joy to watch.
This isn’t to take away from everyone else here, obviously, but yeah, Buscemi’s the one I continue to think about after seeing this.
Keitel’s White is the more seasoned pro of the cast and clearly seems to be the heart and soul of the story, even when you start to feel even worse for him as the situation continues to loosen-up and get more screwy; Michael Madsen has that cool charm about him that even despite the fact that he’s playing a total and complete psychopath, you still kind of like him; Roth does a lot of yelling and crying, but is good at it enough that, in a way, it’s more fun to listen to than actually poke fun at; Lawrence Tierney’s Joe is always grumpy, but it’s hard not to like; and Chris Penn, playing Joe’s son, makes you feel like he’s a lot more of an a-hole, just because, yeah, Penn’s playing him.
Gosh. Wish that guy was still around.
Consensus: Over twenty years later, Reservoir Dogs reminds us all that Tarantino can write wonderful characters, a punchy script, and keep the violent tension running throughout.
9 / 10